Bible Reading: John 18:15-27
The piece of music playing above is called ‘Undenied’ and is by the band Portishead, released on their 2nd album in 1997. It’s a melancholy and reflective piece of music. The delicate and warm sounds of the Fender Rhodes, which begin the song, are quickly joined by a hostile and harsh sounding drum-beat. It makes me think of night-time in a threatening environment, and yet the lyrics tell a deeply personal story of uncertain feelings of love and fidelity. The singer, Beth Gibbons, sings of finding love, but also her fear of losing , abusing, or betraying love.
And this piece of music came to mind as I tried to imagine Peter’s emotional state the night of Jesus’ arrest. So many questions: Why have they arrested Jesus? Don’t they see him like we do? Should I have done more? Why did Judas betray us? Was I wrong about Jesus? Is he not the messiah? What will happen to me now?
And in the midst of these internal questions, as Peter examines himself, the external questions seem to arrest him: ‘You are not one of his disciples, are you?’ ‘Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?’ As Jesus is questioned about his identity inside, Peter is questioned outside.
‘And so bare is my heart, I can’t hide’ sings Beth Gibbons. And Peter’s heart may be feeling extremely bare – and yet all he wants to do is hide: to disappear into the background under a cloak of anonymity. ‘Are you one of his disciples?’ ‘I am not.’
Peter is full of fear: he fears his own judgement – was he wrong about Jesus? He fears what may happen to him if he is associated with Jesus – will he too be crucified?
In later years of the early church, the beloved disciple John, (perhaps the disciple known to the high priest who has gone inside with Jesus) will write in a letter to the early church, ‘Perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18). But Peter is full of doubt now of the perfect love of Jesus. He feels abandoned, isolated, and now hemmed in by his questioners, or as he may perceive them, his accusers.
The night is dark, the air is cold as you move further from the charcoal fire in the courtyard. The Fender Rhodes is melancholy, the drum-beat harsh, Peter is full of fear, and has betrayed his Lord. He has denied any association with Jesus. Perhaps now he remembers Jesus’ words, ‘he who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him’ or again, ‘he who hates me hates my Father as well’ (John 15:23)?
And then a rooster crows, and Peter remembers Jesus’ most recent words spoken directly to him: ‘I tell you the truth, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’ (John 13:38) Disowned; denied. Peter, feeling desperate and dejected (other accounts tells us he broke down and wept) maybe echoes in his heart those words that Beth Gibbons sings:
‘And so bare is my heart, I can’t hide; and so where does my heart belong?’
Peter is exposed, the truth has caught him up, where now does his heart belong?